Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Other Kingdoms

If you're going to talk about the Kingdom of God, you have to talk about other kingdoms too. This is why "politics" can never be removed from the pulpit or the concern of the church. Historically, the church has understood preaching as proclamation--heralding the "word of God" which is the true gospel of the kingdom of God. The church's identity is caught up in its' proclamation. It is dangerous to say so, but I believe that the kingdom of God is a reactionary movement, as far as we're concerned. It is reactionary insofar as it proclaims not just timeless truths about an abstract deity but specifically and prophetically speaks Christ's reign over against the reign of someone else. The gospel's affirmation of God, revealed in Christ, as true king is specifically a denial of Caesar, that typological figure, as king. The gospel's affirmation of a Kingdom of God is also an affirmation of the kingdom of God over against some other system.

Therefore, don't expect "politics" to be absent from Sundays sermons, for to proclaim with any level of meaning the kingdom of God we must name what it is that God's kingdom is not. We must name death where we see it for our God's is a kingdom over against death.

Kingdoms of the world, those that are not God's kingdom, hold no moral high ground, one over the other. "For all have sinned and fallen short..." For every kingdom, however noble it's self-understanding or language, has taken its' power (though they may call it their "freedom") and keeps its' power by the power of death. Only the kingdom which is not of this world, God's kingdom has won victory over death and keeps what we might call power, though the word "power" may hardly work if we use it the way we usually do in reference to kingdoms, by offering life to a world that knows only death and exploitation. We must proclaim this kingdom without accepting any counterfeits, which means we must talk about and name the counterfeits.

6 comments:

Elliott said...

Wes,

I read your blog often, and I find your writing both elegant and insightful. Usually I take no issue with your point of view. Quite the contrary, you usually present an interpretation of Christianity I rather respect. However, this worries me:

'..."politics" can never be removed from the pulpit or the concern of the church'

I'm happy to coexist, but if you and I are going to interact as citizens of a state, it should be on neutral ground. To me this means two things:

1) We each make it a goal to keep our metaphysical beliefs out of the political decision making process
2) Churches keep politics out of the pulpit, lest they be reclassified as political organizations, and be taxed accordingly

The first point may be near impossible, since most of what we do is informed by our respective worldviews, but we should at least try out of respect for each other.

The second point is actually in the interest of the churches themselves. Not only for the stated reason of taxation, but so that they not stain their image tying themselves to ephemeral political movements.

See exhibit A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYIWSyMrhRA

and exhibit B: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7o4QqGbQmU0

WES ELLIS said...

Elliot...
I'm not sure we're talking about politics on the same level. I don't think that metaphysics has as much to do with Christianity as you may think... after all I worship a God who bled on a cross. Therefore I don't tend to see myself being informed too much by by metaphysical beliefs. But perhaps I am more than I know.

I can't disagree more with your second point... but let's think about what you mean. If you're saying that priests or pastors shouldn't advocate particular candidates or propositions from the pulpit, I agree but only because doing such would be advocating and affirming confidence in a kingdom other than God's kingdom. What I mean by "politics" when I say that they shouldn't be absent from the pulpit is a discourse about the identity of the church and God's kingdom over against any political leader or governing system. If they think we're talking too much about politics, screw taxes... bring 'em on, I have no interest in letting the government tell me where the Church's jurisdiction lies. What I am calling for is a church proclamation that is supremely political but, at the same time, transcendent of party ties and things of that sort.

Understand that I don't mean to tell you how to vote or where to place your allegiance. What I am talking about is Christians understanding clearly where their allegiance stands. We should be able to "coexist" just fine, I want the church to be a blessing to you, wherever you are.

There is more at stake than just metaphysics. The church's jurisdiction lies not just in souls but in bodies. People dying of hunger and children being torn apart by bullets are political realities and they are of primary concern to the church.

Do you see where I'm coming from?

Thanks for the comment Elliott, You're a gentleman and a scholar.

WES ELLIS said...

PS... Some of this may sound strange. There's a book that can't hurt to read if you want to get a better idea of what it means for the church to be political. Check out Torture and Eucharist by William Cavanaugh.

WES ELLIS said...

PPS- Thanks for sharing those Youtube videos. I am saddened by Rick Warren's inconsistency. Please don't think that Rick is someone I would think of as a good example of "politics" in the pulpit. It's sad that he has become a spokesman for Christians everywhere when he really doesn't speak for most of us. Prop 8 was not about "marriage" (as the church understands it...check out http://whateverisgood.blogspot.com/2008/10/thoughts-on-gay-marriage-calif-prop-8.html) it was about something else altogether and it's passing, if it was based on some shallow theological interpretation, should be considered a tragedy.

Elliott said...

Thanks for responding.

'I don't think that metaphysics has as much to do with Christianity as you may think'

Christianity sure makes some resolute metaphysical claims. Like that we have a soul, free will, and that there is a god who issued a list of things we should do to please him : )

'I have no interest in letting the government tell me where the Church's jurisdiction lies...

...I want the church to be a blessing to you, wherever you are'

Try to see this from my perspective, as someone who believes that this is it. I'm a philosophical materialist, and so it worries me when you imply that political decisions affecting the allocation of my tax dollar, or the extent of my rights (abortion, marriage/divorce, purchase of alcohol etc.) are to based on someone else's theological beliefs.

Re:

'People dying of hunger and children being torn apart by bullets are political realities and they are of primary concern to the church'

and

'[Prop 8.] was about something else altogether and it's passing, if it was based on some shallow theological interpretation, should be considered a tragedy'

This is why I keep reading your blog. Rock on man.

WES ELLIS said...

Elliot,
I see your concern... I'm not sure we can resolve the tension right here on this blog. Thanks for your thoughts. I think we both need to continue working at these issues.